25 August, 2011

Dear Thailand Diary...

Camel Inactive.  This weird papier-mache beastie confronted us for a few weeks as we
did our twice-daily Jolly Geriatric Walk (Hobble?) around the nearby shoppimg centre.
Having just returned from an Oddysey in Rajasthan, it was all a bit too deja-pas-vu.
PS - I've created a new search category called "Dear Thailand Diary".
Stay-at-home posts such as this one can henceforth be conveniently found grouped
there, as distinct from those under "Thailand Culture"or "Travels Outside Thailand". 
See all your search options under "Browse by Category" in the sidebar >>>
We've actually stayed put in Thailand for a few consecutive months now... almost a record for unrepentant travel-addicts such as we. Various friends and family have been a part of it all, and our collective misdeeds are documented below in a scrambled sort of fashion for your amusement/amazement...
 Kuhn Anna prepares her trusty iPhone for her fearless assault on Bangkok's 84-storey Baiyoke Tower. Yep, amazing how all the abseiling ropes can get squeezed into such a tiny device - and she still managed to txt msg us on the way down.
Then she donned her pith helmet, climbed aboard a water-buffalo, and went exploring the 700 year old ruins of Sukhothai, one of Thailand's numerous former capitals:
...and at Si Satchanali, site of some of Asia's most ancient pottery kilns:
 Walking under the belly of the giant elephant (at the northern town of Denchai) traditionally confers great powers on you. Mr Thaksin always made a point of doing it oh-so-humbly, but only ever bothered if TV cameras were rolling.
 And speaking of Matters Political, here are a few of the posters from the recent election. Yup, things are different in Thailand...

(Our visiting friends Kevin and Trish learned a few important political
pointers which I trust they plan to transmit to Australia's Mr Rabbit.)

Sure, Thailand now has yet another government it deserves. But until the Thai education system undergoes a transformation and weans its students off rote-learning in favour of analysis and critical thinking, simplistic unfundable campaign promises from both parties will continue to sway sucker voters. How about a 25% increase in the basic wage? Yeehah, why the hell not? Or maybe free tablet computers for 800,000 children. Yippee, freebies! Duh, and when all the cheering died down after the election, somebody noted that there was no porn filter, and, um, who was gonna pay for those increased wages? Stay tuned for the predictable back-flips, folks.

Now the new PM is caving in to pressure from Redshirts to restore the 1997 constitution. This parallels the urge of Australia's former Howard government to return to the 1950s...
...and another iconic Thai metaphor, just for good measure:
I have to admit, though, that the chaos is fun. There's always a surprise around the next corner:

Internally-illuminated statues near Chiangmai's 700 year-old Suan Dtok gate.

We took a short holiday from retirement at Hua Hin beach (about 2 hours drive south of Bangkok). Ostensibly the sea air was to help Marie to recover from a viral flu, but in truth it was mostly an excuse to get back to the superlative seafood buffet (drool) overlooking the beach at the Sofitel Resort:
M had a Gothic Moment in the lobby while recovering from the meal:
On our walks we noted that the old Huahin is fast disappearing. It used to be principally a fishing village - now it's morphing into a tourist town with fishermen attached. Traditional teak houses like this one are rare now...
...while German, Danish and Scandanavian cultures are swamping the scene (hey, when Russians and/or Israelis come en masse, we'll go elsewhere. Some Thai hotels at the tourist beaches already refuse entry to Israelis as they are frequently problematic).
Yep, road signs are different in Hua Hin:
Alan, our sapphire-miner friend from Queensland, came on a 3-week dental holiday to the red north. Here he is at the Chiangmai Night Safari (he's the one in red):
...and went camping in a wee hoosie ('sala'):
...and visited Chiangmai's silver wat (Wat Srisuphan) with its regulation standing portrait of the King:
Marie's been going to Thai classes, and despite me trying to crib off her lessons, she's becoming completely incomprehensible to me. Phuut chaa-gwaa daai mai khrap? I'm just jealous. And lazy.
Here she is walkling to school while I continue to fritter my time away composing music - this is one of my infamous "Where's Wally" picture series:
You can biggen any picture by clicking on it.

Here's the view towards Doi Suthep from the same balcony. First dry, then wet'n'windy:

...but on calmer nights (when you sneak out for a snack at the fridge, for instance),it looks more like this from the kitchen:
[see more pix of the apartment and Marie's cave]
The balcony is our Social Central. Here's the occasion of Ronny's 80th birthday with a bunch of our Thai and Farang friends, with Ronny/Rani literally talking up a five-o'clock storm - which, because of R's eloquent oratory, no-one actually noticed:
In fact, the wet season is by far the best time of year for cool weather, flowering trees, avoiding crowds, etc. Just don't tell the tourists. We want it all for ourselves.
And being kept indoors on your 60th is the perfect excuse, of course, to whip up a mini-trifle:
...but you always have to be wary of raids from local ratbag sugarholic maniacs:

The threateningly red colour of the cherries on the trifle proved to be an ominous portent of the radical redecoration of the King's portrait on Huaykeaw Road, as storm-clouds gather on the distant horizon. What is mean?  Passing in front is one of numerous new Fukushima refugees, gratefully lugging home some radiation-free shopping.
Then we hopped a passing Lao Airlines twin-prop for the 1-hour flight from Chiangmai to Luangprabang for a quick sandwich:
On the approach to Luangprabang, formerly the French colonial administrative capital.
The river is the Mae Naam Khan, which feeds nearby into the Mae Khong.

Sisavangvong St, the main drag, hasa few more lights at night now, but they're all provided by privately-owned restaurants and shops, not government streetlights. Ironic, that, for a country which promotes itself as Asia's 'generator'. Huuuuge amounts of cash goes into the Lao government's pockets from selling hydro-electricity to Thailand, but ordinary citizens in the burbs continue to rely on self-funded kersene/candle-power and early bed-times.
The night-market carries on as usual.
 A nearby building site uses thin strips of bamboo as internal reinforcement for a new concrete floor.
Maybe they couldnl't afford rio bar due to corruption expenses.

Outside our hotel ('Luangprabang Residence'... excellent) was a daily morning market selling all manner of veg and meats, including live eels and frogs, unidentifiable parts of un-named animals, plus a clearly identifiable calf foetus, complete of course:

 A child enjoys the sensations of paddling his toes among a seething mass of squirming eels.

 A signature Laotian condiment is the so-called Buffalo Jam. Help yourself to packets
 of dried buffalo skin, the key ingredient. Hey, it works for me... quite nice, actually.

 Off to school again, this time to a class in Laotian cookery. Marg and Andy happened to be there. The chef is closely inspecting how Marie is folding her spring rolls... perhaps he's picking up some tips:

 (Beware the scarecrow in the fake rice paddy... he reputedly adores sweet & sour fish)

 Laotian Desserts 101.  Sticky rice with mango. We pigged out over lunch.

That evening we ate out... no we didn't cook it... local specialty dishes inclding a rather tasty Mae Khong Terapia:

Watch this space [----------] for a link to our forthcoming trip to Oz.
Oo-roo, seer mite.